August 2020 — Attributing the minimal impact of COVID-19 on operations to the diversity of tenants and activities, Executive Director Doug Hayes was pleased to report that business at the Port of Columbia County was strong. “We’ve been doing well enough that we’ve actually hired a few new staff and, in late June, our Commissioners voted to set our tax rate to zero for the coming year for residents and businesses within the port district,” he said, adding that the Port’s multi-year growth trend continues.
Starting first with a review of the Scappoose Industrial Airpark, Hayes reported that, in addition to a new 31,500-square-foot building for Devainaire, the Port is entering into a one-year lease agreement with Pipistrel, a Slovenian company with a large presence in Europe, for property to conduct flight training. With significant interest being expressed by additional companies, Hayes and his team will continue to keep the airport on its top-three list — along with Port Westward and McNulty Creek Industrial Parks — for continued focus in business development.
At the APP’s Winter Conference in Hawaii this past January, Hayes described the process underway to rezone 837 acres of land at the Port Westward site. Given that the Port first sought to rezone the land in 2013 but was blocked by Columbia Riverkeeper, Hayes was happy to note that, with their recent submission to the last outstanding question, a decision is now pending and should be received by late October. Potential uses for the land include a gas-to-methanol plant or refinery for diesel made from palm and vegetable oils.
Also at Port Westward, Hayes highlighted the lease signed late last year with NEXT Renewable Fuels Oregon for a 90-acre site. NEXT is investing $1 billion dollars into facilities that will see the production of 50,000 barrels of biofuels per day (once at full capacity). Hayes estimated that the project will employ over 200 skilled, local workers.
Additional news for the Port of Columbia County included the recent approval for Global Clatskanie Terminal to add renewable diesel exports. Providing a good example of global demand for fuels, the Clatskanie Terminal, prior to being purchased by Global in 2013, was a transload facility for crude oil; Global shifted to ethanol by 2015 and now, to the cleaner, renewable diesel derived from plant and animal byproducts.
While Hayes and his team have been hindered by the ability to meet in person with potential new stakeholders for the Port, they continue to field a lot of interest, especially from international parties. “There has been a lot of interest in the Portland area over the past few years,” Hayes said, “but Portland is pretty much saturated and companies are looking northward. We’ve been fortunate in that respect. It allows us to be more selective in the type of industries we want to see develop here.”
Admittedly acknowledging that forecasting during a pandemic is tricky, when asked, Hayes said they were continually monitoring and adjusting numbers as the year has progressed, but “having a strong, strategic vision has certainly helped.”